Researchers from King Abdulaziz University discovered an oil-degrading bacteria in oil samples taken in Saudi Arabia, and have characterized it. This development could lead to the use of oil-degrading bacteria to clean oil spills even in the harsh climate of the Gulf area.
Since the time human society launched itself into the first industrial revolution, energy requirements kept rising. The most prevalent of energy sources even today are the fossil fuels, whose over-exploitation cause harm to the environment.
Fossil fuels contain large amounts of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), among many other toxic pollutants. Some PAHs are carcinogenic – i.e. can cause cancer. Others are mutagenic or even teratogenic, causing mutations and developmental problems in embryos. And if that’s not enough, PAHs are highly mobile, and are able to spread wide over air, soil and water bodies.
Needless to say, PAHs are some of the least-liked chemicals in the world.
Oil spills have already caused immeasurable damage in many places around the world. Many strategies have been devised to degrade crude oil. One of the most interesting approach is that of biodegradation: utilizing microorganisms – mainly bacteria – that can degrade the compounds one can find in crude oil, including PAHs. That said, it is still difficult to decipher the complex interrelations between the microorganisms, the crude oil and many other factors that affect the biodegradation process.
We know today that some bacterial strains that work well in certain climates, may flounder under different weather conditions. Bacteria that work well in the frozen waters of Iceland, are not likely to function as well under the burning sun in Saudi Arabia, for example. That is quite an issue, especially since the Gulf countries are one of the most important crude oil providers, and thus are more susceptible to oil spills.
Researchers from King Abdulaziz University have recently made an effort to identify and characterize native bacteria that degrade crude oil in Saudi Arabia. The lead author Yasir Anwar and his research group collected samples from oil-contaminated sites near Aramco refinery in Saudi Arabia. Bacteria from the samples were isolated and analyzed.
As some bacteria are known for their oil-degrading capabilities, it is not surprising that forty-three types of relevant bacteria were isolated from the samples. Out of all those different bacteria, the best strain identified for oil degradation was Pseudomonas stutzeri – a relatively common bacteria that can be found in many different environments.
The implications of the research are that biodegradation of crude oil projects can finally be carried out with a good chance for success in places that enjoy their share of sunshine like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. All of the above are also oil-producing empires, meaning that such added measures that protect the environment in those areas are highly needed.
In the future, as we learn more about the workings of this bacteria and others, we’ll be able to engineer and reprogram them to become even more effective in the harsh environmental conditions of the Gulf area. While such advancements are still years into the future, when they come about – they’ll also rely on the insights obtained in the course of this research.
Original content by Nawartna